Wednesday 3 June 2015 – Malacca
Breakfast was a Malaysian omelette at a delightfully retro kopitiam on the riverside. The ‘Malaysian’ omelette turned out to involve some raw onion, white bread toast and a small pot of canned baked beans. But the atmosphere was fun.
With UNESCO World Heritage status, Malacca has become Malaysia’s cultural tourism capital and there are state-run museums of almost anything and everything – museums of Customs, Education, Youth, Literature, History, Architecture, Islam, Chinese Art, Islamic Inventions, to name but a few.
I started with the Sultan’s Palace Museum, a lovely teak pavilion in attractive gardens at the foot of Bukit Paul. It suffered from poor displays, bad English interpretation (English and Malay both being official languages). The main interpretive device was gaudy and grotesque paintings depicting historic scenes which were inexpertly explained. Costumes (indistinguishable from those sarongs and batiks available in the ‘craft’ bazaar across the street) were displayed on old shop mannequins that belonged in the 1960s, complete with ‘fright’ wigs. A few weapons (daggers, ‘kris’ knives and swords) pretty much completed the collection. There were no docents or guides to ask questions of and many of the displays were damaged or not working – lights out, screens dead.
There was more of the same at the enormous Stadthuys, the Dutch-built administrative complex and residences. In its current guise it purports to tell the history of Malacca – leaving one to wonder (but not sufficiently interested to explore!) why there was a separate History Museum up the hill.
Bukit Paul, where I again saw Bill the Irishman, has nice views and its statue of St Francis Xavier, but there were touts, stalls and buskers at every turn. Lunch was some chicken rice balls, apparently a Nonya speciality.
The museum of the day was the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, a new private house museum with a real collection. This was clearly a house and contents that had been inhabited by real people. My guide Alan was able to discuss his subject and answer questions in a reasonably scholarly manner. It did not, unfortunately, seem to be overburdened with visitors.
Another siesta and some vitamins as I have succumbed to a minor head cold, with all the in-and-out of air conditioning.
A walk along the Malacca River revealed it has been ‘beautified’ since my last visit and its now possible to walk along both sides for some distance. There are many new guest houses, cafes, apartments and some big hotels in place of the kampongs of my earlier visit.
There is still a stretch of very decayed kampongs adjacent to the riverside walkway. What becomes of these, goodness knows, but for the time being the seem to be lit up as a feature of the river cruises.
Dinner of salted chilli chicken in another Nonya restaurant on Jonker Street called The Melting Pot, where the proprietor (who was, I suspect a transsexual woman) was in deep and intriguing discussion with a young lass from China and a couple of others (a male translator and her business partner?) over some business deal or employment arrangement involving immigration policies, money from the girl’s ‘father’.